RODEO, Calif. - An emotional vigil was held Sunday night for an 11-year-old girl from Rodeo. Authorities accuse her stepmother and father of torturing and abusing her.
The fifth-grader's body was found in her parents’ home on March 23 after first responders were called for a medical emergency. Authorities found Annai with bruises and burns. The cause of her death is still under investigation.
On Sunday, community members gathered to show support for the girl’s biological mother, who had not seen her daughter in years.
The girl’s father was given sole custody years ago. The mother’s side of the family is filled with regret and anger. No one wants the young girl to be forgotten. Loved ones are encouraging others to speak up to prevent any more tragedies.
The heartbroken mother of 11-year-old Annai Diaz could barely hold it together Sunday. She was surrounded by a few dozen people hoping to shed light on the young girl’s death.
"She was always very playful with a lot of people," said Aunt Estrelitta Garcia.
The girl’s aunt describes her niece as happy and friendly. The last time she saw her was when she was six years old.
She said the girl’s biological father, Rene, and stepmother, Crystal Diaz, wouldn’t let them see Annai after Rene got sole custody.
"I always had the dream of seeing her again even if it was behind her father’s back but they took that away from us," said Garcia.
She had no idea the horrors her niece had to endure.
"I always thought she was in a good place because of what they portrayed to be on social media," said Garcia.
Community members are shocked and wished they had noticed or seen something.
"We wonder if the schools were not closed would she have gotten help," said Norma Black of Crockett. "Would a teacher have noticed her bruises?"
Authorities said the emergency call from the parents was the first sign of trouble. Court documents reveal the abuse had been ongoing since November.
"I’m angry that she couldn’t get the proper help that she needed," said Black. "I feel like the system failed her."
"I just want justice because she didn’t deserve to die," said Garcia. "She was young. She was just starting out to live."
Annai’s loved ones are grieving that they weren't able fight for her. They are hoping to fight for others.
"This happens way too often to so many innocent children," said Garcia.
The father and stepmother have three other kids who are now under the care of Child Protective Services. The couple’s bail is $1.4 million each. They’re expected to be arraigned on Wednesday.
Azenith Smith is a reporter for KTVU. Email Azenith at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @AzenithKTVU or Facebook or ktvu.com.